For Party and Country: The GOP Must Call Out the Election Lie – In 2016, Donald Trump did the Republican Party – and America – a huge service. He stood up, in the middle of a GOP primary debate, and said “the Iraq War was a big, fat mistake.”
He wasn’t saying anything profound. The tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel killed or wounded (and the thousands more who would commit suicide back home), the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, and the three trillion dollar price tag were such overwhelming costs that no outcome in Iraq could possibly justify them.
And yet, Trump had the courage to say what everyone knew was true and wasn’t allowed to say. After all, George W. Bush, a Republican, decided to invade Iraq, and most Republicans then still abided by Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Trump’s courage broke the spell. Republicans no longer had to tie themselves to an unpopular war. They no longer had to lie and tell voters that up was down and a mistake was a victory. They had credibility again, and thus could meaningfully contribute to national security.
They were free to tell the truth.
Now, it is up to a different Republican to show some courage and break another spell, this one of Trump’s making: that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Whoever steps up to tell Republicans that Trump lost in 2020 will do a great service to conservatives and to the nation. It will help Republicans win elected office, sure, but far more importantly, it will enable Republicans to contribute meaningful policy ideas and strike compromises in the best interest of the nation.
Whomever has the courage to stand up may well lose the primary and forfeit their political career. Yet the service they perform will be many times greater than anything they could do in office.
Let’s make the obvious point first: the 2020 election was not stolen. The review that the Trump campaign paid for “could not offer any proof that [Trump] was the rightful winner of the election.” Over 80 judges, many of them appointed by President Trump, dismissed the Trump campaign’s legal arguments as baseless in dozens of different suits. The people arguing there was election fraud – from Tucker Carlson to Sean Hannity to Laura Ingraham – never believed it. Jenna Ellis, one of the foremost attorneys arguing election fraud allegations in court has since admitted it was a lie.
Yes, Republicans have some gripes about last-minute rule changes that made mail-in voting easier during the pandemic, but nothing on the scale that would have changed the outcome in any state, let alone the entire election.
Claims of large-scale fraud are simply false. Yet they are immensely damaging to Republicans and to the nation.
Most cynically, it harms Republicans in elections. Roughly 65% of Americans believe that the 2020 election was free and fair, according to a slew of polls. Even among Republicans who believe the election was stolen, 48% admit there’s no evidence to prove it. It is not surprising that, in 2022, the candidates who leaned hardest into election fraud – like Herschel Walker in Georgia, Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona, and Adam Laxalt in Nevada – lost races in states where other Republicans who downplayed election conspiracies managed to win. In Pennsylvania, Republican gubernatorial candidate and aggressive election denier Doug Mastriano was trounced by 15 points in a swing state.
Election denialism is not only unpopular; it is preventing Republicans from taking an honest look at why they keep losing elections. The losing streak is both recent (in May, Jacksonville elected a Democratic mayor for just the second time in 30 years) and long-term (Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote just once since 2004, and even that was almost 20 years ago.)
Yet as bad as election denialism is for Republicans, it is worse for the country. It robs Republicans of credibility and prevents many of their legitimately good ideas from being considered, let alone enacted. It is unreasonable to expect a Democrat to believe that a Republican plan is offered in good faith – or grounded in fact – when a large majority of the GOP is going along with, or even espousing, a baldfaced lie.
Which is a shame, because the GOP does have a lot to offer. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI)’s U.S. House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has provided a host of good ideas for how the U.S. can push back on a rising, ill-intentioned competitor. His committee has put forward plans to revitalize America’s defense industrial base and to hold the CCP accountable for its brutal treatment of the Uyghurs. Elsewhere, Republicans are looking to make it more culturally and financially appealing to enter the trades – which, given America’s plumber shortage, ironworker shortage, construction worker shortage, and nursing shortage, among countless others – is an absolute necessity. But those solutions are a hard sell as long as election denialism remains a central tenet of the GOP.
Worst of all, election denialism robs Americans of trust, which makes broad, popular, and effective compromise exceedingly difficult. Compromise negotiations are based on personal relationships and good faith, which is why people who were ideological opposites – like Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy – could strike so many agreements. Yet it is very difficult to trust someone publicly adhering to an obvious lie, and one they personally do not believe.
Which is, yet again, a shame. There are so many compromises that would be good for the nation that both sides could agree to. Trading increased border security in exchange for safety for the Dreamers and funding for more immigration judges and facilities near the border. Trading permitting reform for oil and gas projects in exchange for permitting reform for solar, wind, and electric grid projects. And trading a drop in the overall corporate tax rate in exchange for closing the sort of corporate tax loopholes that enable companies like GE and Nike to pay zero federal corporate taxes.
Indeed, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation has cataloged nearly 150 policy ideas that large, bipartisan majorities support.
Back in 2016, when he called out the Iraq War for what it was, Trump gambled that people would respond well to hearing the obvious truth they were not allowed to say. He turned out to be right. I cannot predict if a Mike Pence or Chris Christie saying the same thing would meet similar approval. But I can say that a grateful country and a grumbling GOP would be better off for it.
It is time to free America and the GOP from the pernicious long tail of a toxic lie.
Neal Urwitz is a public relations executive in Washington.